Celebrating 40 Years of EPCOT: Cast Members Share a Look Behind the Magic

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It’s been said that EPCOT is a park about people – from the stories told through the park’s unique attractions and cultural experiences, to the guests who inspire innovation and new possibilities. At the heart of this unique theme park are the cast members who’ve been making magic over the last four decades.

Recently, I had the honor of sitting down with a few of those cast members to see the park through their eyes. Here are their stories:

Phyllis Wilkins working at The Land pavilion in EPCOT in 1982

Phyllis Wilkins working at The Land pavilion in EPCOT
in 1982.

Phyllis Wilkins started her Disney career back when Magic
Kingdom Park was the only theme park at Walt Disney World. When she heard there
was an opportunity to join the opening team for a new park called EPCOT, she
knew she had to be a part of it. She had a unique vantage point of the park’s
construction as she worked high above Tomorrowland.

“I got the opportunity to watch Spaceship Earth get built
from the Astro Orbiter because that was the attraction I was working at,” Phyllis
said. “When I signed up to join the EPCOT team, I didn’t know what I was going
into. I’d heard there would be things about the future, things about different

Nearly 40 years later, she still remembers the excitement
and awe among cast members and guests alike on opening day.

“I was anxiously waiting at the entrance doors to The Land
pavilion for our guests to arrive. You could hear the music and everything
going on,” she remembers. “It was very exciting. We kept looking around like,
‘Are they coming yet? Are they here?’”

As an opening day cast member at The Land pavilion, Phyllis
witnessed the wide-eyed wonder and amazement on the first guests’ faces. It’s
an expression she still sees on guests to this day who visit EPCOT for the
first time.

“It’s a park that’s about learning new things – whether
you’re learning about hydroponics or whatever new communication is going on.
More people now know about the hydroponics in The Land, but there are still
folks out there who have never seen anything like that before,” Phyllis said. “To
hear them say ‘It’s growing in thin air. How does it get its water?’ is still
very amazing. You never know. They may become an astrophysicist or find
something that they love just from something they saw here.”

Today, Phyllis is a Guest Experience Manager at World
Showcase East where she oversees the hosts and hostesses at the attractions.

“I never know what my day is going to bring. I never know
who I’m going to meet or where they’re going to be from. To meet people that
have traveled here, sometimes
for the first time, and to hear their story is a great experience. What
keeps me here is the people, whether it be our cast members or our guests.”

That’s a sentiment that Lisa Michelle Sigbjornsen shares as

Lisa Michelle Sigbjornsen representing Norway as a Cultural Representative in EPCOT

Lisa Michelle Sigbjornsen representing Norway as a
Cultural Representative in EPCOT.

“People see I’m from Norway and they come over and start
talking,” she said. “Suddenly, I have a best friend. That’s the best part of
working here, that you get to make those impacts that you cannot make anywhere

Six years ago, Lisa was excited to represent her family’s
heritage as a Cultural Representative in the Norway pavilion. To her, there’s
nothing better than sharing her culture and traditions with the guests who
visit EPCOT.

“The Norway pavilion is a mixture of so many things,” Lisa
said. “I love it. I was so surprised that they have only 11 countries and
Norway is one of them. That is really cool. When people ask where I’m from, I
get to talk about my hometown. They love hearing this stuff. Everyone is like
‘Where is this? I want to go there!’ It makes me so proud of where I’m from.”

Today, Lisa makes magic as an Attractions Coordinator in
World Showcase East. Each day, she has the opportunity to work closely with her
fellow cast members and connect with the new Cultural Representatives who call
EPCOT home.

“When I was a Cultural Representative, I got to make friends
all over World Showcase. I had fun at work, but also during my time off. It was
a little Disney bubble, and it was the most magical place,” Lisa said. “We all
are a family so no matter how hard it is, I understand. I’ve been there. That’s
why I love being a coordinator. I can help.”

Paul Keane with Donald Duck at a Walt Disney World cast member appreciation event in 1996

Paul Keane with Donald Duck at a Walt
Disney World cast member appreciation event in 1996.

When Paul Keane was 22 years old, he learned about the
Cultural Representative Program at EPCOT through a brochure. Once he saw Walt
Disney’s iconic quote, “You can design and create and build the most
wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality,”
Paul knew this was where he wanted to work.

He boarded an airplane for the first time ever
and made the 10-hour flight from England to Florida, excited about the
possibilities ahead in his new role as a food and beverage host at the Rose
& Crown Pub in the United Kingdom pavilion.

“Back in the U.K., I was a chef. I’d just finished culinary
school. To leave Europe to come to the States, it’s a big deal. I’d never been
to Disney,” Keane said. “This kid from Liverpool would never have gotten to
scuba dive or go on a hot air balloon ride or make friends from around the

What started as an exciting opportunity has turned into a
27-year career. Paul worked his way from bartender to manager at the Rose &
Crown Pub. Eventually, he branched out into casting, costuming and training,
where he currently works as the Regional Training Manager for EPCOT and
Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

“It’s been more special for me because as the company’s
grown and as EPCOT has grown, I’ve grown too,” Keane said. “I went from this
22-year-old kid who didn’t have a care in the world to taking on bigger
responsibilities. It’s been kinda neat.”

Now, Paul guides the new Cultural Representatives who come
to EPCOT to start their own adventures. Having been in their shoes, he’s proud
to share his experience and open their eyes to the endless possibilities within
the Walt Disney Company. “When I meet with cast members now, I tell them to set
goals for every meeting they go to. Set yourself objectives. It can happen.
There are lots of great people who want to help you.”

Celebrating 40 Years

As these three cast members reflect on the major milestone
ahead for their home park, they can’t help but smile at the limitless possibilities

“I love that the main entrance is [once again] a replica of
the original main entrance,” Phyllis said. “It was so beautiful when it was all
planted out with flowers. To see how quickly things changed as we were getting
ready to open, now it’s happening all over again. It’s very cool to see the

“Thinking about it, I want to cry. I’m so excited to be
here,” said Lisa. “To be able to tell my grandchildren later, ‘I was there when
EPCOT turned 40.’ This is going to be so much fun!”

“Watching it from 1990 to now, it’s going to be really
exciting to celebrate the 40th,” Paul said. “Look at all the great
things the park has coming. It’s gone through a massive transformation. Bring
on another 40 years!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Cheers to EPCOT on
its 40th Anniversary and also to all of the cast members who bring
the magic of possibility to life every day!

That's all folks!

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